I love listening to CBC Radio. Last week, as I was driving who knows where, I heard a discussion about Jacob Barnett, a teenager [now]. As a boy, he was diagnosed with Autism. His parents were told that it was unlikely that he would ever learn to read. They were told that it was unlikely that he would ever succeed in school. He’s now in university studying astro-physics.
I heard a brief part of Barnett’s TED talk. Yes, if you watch it, you will see his youth and nervousness and what are possibly some characteristics of a person who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. And that might be off-putting. Yet, if that is all that you focus on, then you would miss the whole point of what he was saying.
And the point he made in his TED talk was that we all need to stop learning and start thinking. Now I love learning. I was an excellent student and a brilliant teacher. AND I got what he was saying.
As I listened, what struck me was that, for most of us, learning means that we are replicating already held knowledge, and that we strive to get good marks so that our parents and teachers will be proud of us, and so that we can get into a post-secondary programme so that we can have a ‘good’ job and live well as a contributor inside the existing social fabric of our world. That got me to realize that learning as we have known it to be – school and teachers and report cards and marks and ‘educational success’ is all externally referenced. The markers of success are not our own. They are established by some outside ‘authority’.
Short of our being taught the basic principles of arithmetic and reading and writing, the rest of it all is little more than an extension on those initial principles. The rest of what we are ‘taught’ in school is really ‘add-ons’.
Barnett did not ever suggest that we stop learning – merely that we stop learning within established educational structures. Once we do that, we will be able to start thinking and posing questions and solving problems and seeking to know more from our own unique perspectives.
Thinking is about asking ourselves questions about that which intrigue us, about things which we believe need to be answered, about things which are new to us. Thinking is problem solving. The questions which we ask ourselves and which can drive our learning are internally referenced. They are important to us. The solutions which we seek or which we create are personally driven. Yes, they may benefit the world as a whole in some way, but the initial spark to find the answers comes from inside us.
Once we really listen to ourselves and choose what we want to discover because we are interested in it and we want to know, then our learning expands. It becomes internally referenced. We are exploring our world for what interests us. And, in doing that, we start creating things which have not been thought of before. We make our own connections and our world is exponentially transformed by what we, individually, seek to know and what we each create.
If you are interested in listening to Jacob Barnett, what follows is the URL reference. Listen to what he says. Decide for yourself what your response is. To use the overworked and trite phrase, allow yourself to ‘think outside the box.’ You might just surprise yourself.